On a miserable November’s night, the cosy music hall at the top of Belgrave provides a welcome refuge from the biting cold. Last Tuesday evening I made my way down to experience the remarkable set of spoken word icon Kate Tempest. Out of the midst of the shadowy, smoky stage, Tempest emerged to prophesise politics, personal conflicts and humanity’s dark future.
“I appreciate the value you’ve placed on this experience by coming here tonight,” she says, before voicing her love for intimate venues like this. In line with her musical condemnation of modern society, she asks us to keep our phones in our pockets for the evening, adding comically: “If you really need to prove that you were here, I can pose for a picture now for you” – and grinning cheekily as she poses with the mic for a few moments.
“Leeds is a special place for me,” she continues. “Last time we were here we played the Brudenell Social Club, and a nurse just stood up in the middle of it and started talking about the NHS. It was really an amazing experience.”
After reminiscing upon past times in the city, she kicks off her set with the hard-hitting beats and equally uncompromising truths of ‘Europe is Lost’, before dipping into Let Them Eat Chaos and Everybody Down with a selection of tracks from each. The ominous verse of ‘Ketamine for Breakfast’, chaotic despair of ‘Grubby’ and dejected musical landscape of ‘Tunnel Vision’ stand out amid this selection of assured rap as she explores modern society.
‘Tunnel Vision’ ends and with it so does the first half of the evening. The stage goes dark and Tempest tilts her head back in silence, her eyes resting on us as she recollects and refocuses herself. The melancholic intro of ‘Thirsty’ signals the start of her 2019 album The Book of Traps and Lessons, and the second half of the evening begins.
Despair and exasperation mark her verse as she delves deeper into the state of our planet. “7.4 billion humans…7.5 billion humans…7.6 billion humans,” she recounts in ‘Keep Moving Don’t Move’, our population growing exponentially as the red sphere that backdrops the stage gleams and mutates in the light, appearing as a symbol of our ever-warming planet.
Tempest narrates an unsparing commentary on humanity and love in ‘All Humans Too Late’, ‘Hold Your Own’ and ‘Firesmoke’, before the evening crescendos with dynamic lighting and the rising sounds of ‘Holy Elixir’. A sense of urgency is palpable as the stage falls into a scene of almost panic, lights chaotically flashing, the music intensifying and Tempest’s verse escalating. She stops and stands back while keyboardist Clare Uchima frantically adjusts the keyboard and synth pads surrounding her, as if trying to find the right button to alter our catastrophic future.
Tempest returns to the centre of the stage and leaves us with a soft, gentle rendering of her love for ‘People’s Faces’, offering us a remedy, something to look to in moments of darkness. Her performance was truly an extraordinary experience, and her poignant words will remain in the minds and thoughts of those that were there for a long time.
Photos/Video by Tom Weatherilt